Food for Thought: What do boys in South Africa think about being boys today? What do they imagine is expected of them? Whom do they look up to and how are they navigating the transition from being boys to becoming men?
What does it mean to be a man? That a man does not cry? That a man provides and protects?
Maybe these are not the right questions.
But maybe this story will provide the right answers.
Andisiwe and Tshepo, a newly married young couple, are planning on having a baby. Tshepo wants a daughter but his aunts are adamant that his firstborn should be a boy, “to carry on the family name” they say. His uncles also insist that his firstborn must be a boy too, “to show that he is a man in the bedroom” they say.
On the other hand, Andisiwe wants a son for a firstborn and her mother agrees, “to please your husband and stop him from taking a second wife” she says. Her father would rather she has a girl, “girls always remember home and their mothers’ she will look after you, well into your old age” he says.
Ever wondered why those who imagine about having children prefer certain sex over the other? The story of Andisiwe and Tshepo can help us see what it means to be a man, an object and symbol of multiple complex expectations. Does being a man born in a patriarchal society mean the same as in a matriarchal one?
Andisiwe and Tshepo finally have their baby boy who wailed at birth which made the nurses on duty celebrate. Baby Mandla kept his parents up at night crying in between feeding and nappy changing times, he also laughed a lot each time he was picked up.
Being held, sung to, kissed on the forehead and talked to made baby Mandla giggle endlessly. The affection Andisiwe and Tshepo gave to baby Mandla made him smile each time he saw his parents. Baby Mandla grew into a strong and healthy boy child who always ran into his mom and daddy’s arms each time they show up home back from work.
Mandla was raised into a respectful African child with lots of aspirations for when he grows up and finally leave the house for high school. His mother and the housekeeper told him that he had to toughen up for high school and stand up for himself. How does one toughen up for a cruel world?
Mandla had to learn that one had to control his emotions, if necessary, deny them in order to put up a show of bravery as any sign of weakness is frowned upon. Such lies we put up with. The toxic part about this is that boys are raised to be men who struggle to acknowledge and express their feelings in the name of bravery.
We fail to see that heroes and saints are people who experience fear, have weaknesses and are also ordinary. The idea of a man being one with everything under control, unlimited strength and all the other stereotypes of being macho are a big ask. If anything they set males up to fail, to fail at being who they truly are as individuals.
Furthermore, according to the South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), estimates that 60% of children have absent fathers. The impact of the lack of absent fathers or positive father figures has an impact on the development of the boy child’s perception towards manhood.
Luckily, Mandla is part of the 33 percent of children who are born and raised in a household by both parents.
Now, how do we break this down for kids to begin to see toxic masculinity in the area of emotional intelligence? How about a drawing and coloring activity on how your favorite food tastes? Getting kids to begin to think about the qualities they like in something like food and giving them a language to express it, in this case, drawing and coloring. From food then taking it to appreciate people and creating gifts for family members and or friends.
Toxic masculinity hampers emotional intelligence. It encourages a limited view of what a man is and even has an impact on intimate relationships. The sad part of this is that some females, those who help raise the boy child, take an active role in socializing them into toxic masculinity.
“Children are regarded as a gift, yet at times boy children are considered an investment whether for family name purposes or not.“
So, what does it mean to be a man?
Again, nothing but allowing your boy child to express his individuality for himself. Figuring out the rules of masculinity and trying to live up to them is part of every boy’s childhood. Most boys find the test of masculinity scary and hard to pass.
Perhaps the test should be that boys should be allowed to be themselves and not constantly measure themselves against the societal standard of masculinity. This is an invitation to shift from living life and raising your boy child based on what people will say, “abantu bazothini?” towards what is best for your boy child.
It is important to talk to boys about the reality of gender expectations and help them figure out how to negotiate this problem. If a little boy is struggling to feel adequately masculine by acting tough, it’s not helpful to criticize or mock his interests. So instead of teaching the ills of toxic masculinity, we should instead instill a culture of positive masculinity – that is freeing the burden of societal expectations on the young boy child.
Remember that each child is unique and requires a tailored approach making it impossible to expect your boy child to go through life with the burden of trying to be a certain man who only exists in societal expectations.
Part of parenting is being great stewards of who our children are born to be, acknowledging their strengths, weaknesses and potential then guiding them towards who they are wired to be. Early Childhood Development and formal education, in part, help with this yet the validation, approval and shaping the boy children into what being a man start from home.
So we have decided to create a few tips for challenging gender stereotypes in the home:
Ensure that children receive equal praise for the same behavior. For example, praising both boys and girls for being neat or being active in physical activities.
Encourage children to be friends across genders.
Use the anatomically correct terms when referring to body parts.
Point out, critique and discuss gendered representations in the media.
Avoid gender-specific language and statements such as “that’s a man’s job.’ and ‘that’s not lady-like.”
Encourage gender neutral toys and colors.
Back to the story of baby Mandla, it takes a village to raise a child. Until we, as a society, grapple and engage in open dialogue on notions of masculinity we will continue down the toxic avenue. Change begins with you and it is possible to raise children aware of positive masculinity tailored for each child to be themselves.
By Traver Mudzonga
About Traver Mudzonga:
Traver is a photographer and brand culture design art director founded on creativity, passion and skill for highest possible results.Photography is more than a job for him, it is an expression of life. Having over nine years of technical and management experience as a Production Designer, he now focuses on brand strategy and inspiring brand culture.
Follow him on twitter: (m_traver), instagram (mtraverfolio) and visit his website: www.mtraver.com
As seen in Part One, a lot and more has been said about teaching little girls about menstruation, hygiene, and social taboos associated with it and such, but seldom do we talk about how to enlighten our little boys on this topic. Don’t you think it is as important for us to teach our sons in a very healthy way about the concept of menstruation? Isn’t that also one of the most important steps towards eradicating the social taboos that still exist in our society regarding menstruation?
Half the population has periods, so why not make sure the half that doesn’t is also informed? Every boy should learn about period education.
This is in part why a recent report has called for boys, as well as girls, to learn about periods and the menstrual cycle at school. Plan International, the charity behind the report, suggests there is a need to talk more about the issue as many girls feel embarrassed – with the menstrual cycle tarnished with stigma and taboo.
Their findings also reveal that one in seven of the girls and women interviewed said they did not know what was happening when they first started their period – clearly demonstrating a need for more to be done to teach young women about what’s to come.
We have provided tips on how to teach boys on periods and it’s in five easy steps!
Lesson #1: The Biological Lessons:
Before your little one reaches ‘the’ age, when the girls of his age start getting their first periods, one needs to give them basic guidance on the biological process involved with menstruation. You don’t really need to go deep into details during this stage. You just need to provide them with a little basic information for starters and later on, as he grows up, one may go into details as per his and your respective comfort levels.
Lesson #2: It’s Divine, Not Yucky!
As your little one learns about menstruation and its associated processes, it is quite natural for them to develop an aversion towards it, as it involves blood and hygiene and so on and so forth. Let him know then, that there are hygienic methods involved in addressing it and that it is not a curse.
“In fact, boys need to know that it is nature’s little secret that keeps life on this planet going and thriving.”
Lesson #3: Boom – Busting the Myths!
It is TV time and your boy child sees that cliché sanitary pad advert with the demonstration of blue ink being poured on the sanitary pad. Believe it or not, but there are some parents who tell their sons that the sanitary pad is used for absorbing excess ink from fountain pens! It is important to bust myths around things that children come across every day. By telling your boy child: “I will tell you about it in detail when you grow up. For now, it’s something that is used by big girls.” is a simple way of tackling the societal taboos that come with menstruation.
Lesson #4: Moody Mood Swings.
It is important to start teaching your boy child that girls can go through mood swings, and it not because of their period but because of hormones or either they are actually moody. And that is okay! It is important not to always blame the period for mood swings, but to at least teach boys to be sensitive towards such events.
Lesson #5: Ouch! The Pain.
Just like the mood swings, boys need to understand how much of a painful experience it could be for some girls. They need to understand why their girl classmates or friends are not in the mood to play around or have fun.
It is also important for schools to be more open about the importance of menstruation and they need to be more sympathetic towards the stigma girls face. For a start, schools should provide resources and information that girls can access. This will help them understand – rather than feel scared and fearful – what is happening to their bodies during puberty.
Talking with your children is one important step towards taking the taboo out of menstruation because to achieve gender equality on this issue, girls need to feel able to talk about their periods and challenge the discrimination that is associated with menstruation and developing girls bodies.
And boys can play a big role in this – if they also get the right support and resources.
By only educating girl children about menstruation, we will not solve the problem of menstrual taboos in this society. We need to educate our boys too, for a better period-friendly society and a better life for the women of tomorrow!
Until we change attitudes, the conversation surrounding menstruation and menstrual equality will continue to be a secret. Tell your daughters. Tell your sons. Today. The earlier we start to normalize the conversation with our children, the less of a taboo menstruation will become. It’ll be just another part of the cycle of dialogue.
Fact: People with periods menstruate monthly for about 40 years – close to 500 times in a lifetime.
Fact: Not talking about periods creates confusion, oppression, and societal harm.
It is important to talk about menstrual health, society has for too long made it a taboo.
Menstruation, despite being a completely natural and common occurrence for young girls and women for as long as our species has existed is one of the most misunderstood and feared phenomena.
MANY girls believe that periods are a burden to be borne every month, silently and in shame. Society is complicit in teaching girls that menstruation is a dirty little secret. The messaging about periods is that they are best suffered quietly and that they are certainly not appropriate for polite conversation.
“It is critical for both girls and boys to know that having your period is a natural and important part of growing up.“
So we have provided ideas for parents, guardians, teachers, and guidance counselors. Don’t be afraid of talking about periods, sharing information and advice is the best way to understand your period and have a happy month!
Firstly what is a period?
It is important to have a discussion with your child on the female reproductive system!
A first period (also known as menarche) is a special event! Spend time with your child to celebrate the start of a new chapter in their life. Sharing knowledge and experience is important to help your them feel comfortable and confident about the changes that are happening to their body.
Your period is blood passing out of your womb as part of a natural process to prepare your body for pregnancy. Now that your body is changing you can get pregnant, (and just before your first period too).
Your period happens once a month, and usually lasts between 2-7 days, but it may take a few months for your period to be regular and predictable, the first few may be light and irregular. You may find it useful to keep track of your period each month, to see when it is due and when it arrives. You can use an easy Period App such as Clue.
Preparing with correct and updated information for the first period can prevent worry. Let them know it is normal and natural and that they can still enjoy their childhood if they want to. Just because their period arrived, does not mean they want to be rushed into becoming an adult.
Talk from experience, let them know that all menstruating teenagers go through it, and you did too. Show her the menstrual health products available, how to use them and let her choose the one she feels most comfortable with.
Know the facts
It is as simple as researching online and reading up on the facts! Pass on the knowledge!
“Menstrual management can be essential in ensuring that your child’s everyday life is not interrupted by menstruation. “
It ensures that your child can continue with her daily routine such as going to school, going to work or doing household chores. It can also prevent potential situations of embarrassment and in turn, make them feel confident about herself and her body. In this sense, maintaining proper menstrual health is important for her wellbeing and development.
Not only is this post focusing on what girls and women should do, but young boys and men have a responsibility to learn about menstrual cycles (which we shall discuss in part two).
We believe that every girl should have access to safe, affordable menstrual products.
Every girl should also learn that her period is a natural even a phenomenal bodily process.
Every girl should learn that their period is not a monthly curse and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.